Handling one story can be hard enough for some directors, but here the seperate narratives are woven seamlessly together. It is jarring at first, jumping from one time zone and set of characters (played by the same group of actors throughout) to another, but soon you settle in, and the movie becomes surprisingly easy to follow (with only the future speak of the sixth segment making me scratch my head), each segment informing the other in smart and interesting ways. Each story is entertaining in it's own right (packed with enough details that they could have easily filled their own movies), keeping your attention throughout its 3 hour plus run time, and seeing the connections between the narratives becomes the most satisfying part of the film. There are big themes being explored here, and the movie feels suitably epic. The editing is wonderful, cutting between the different timezones effortlessly, and when the stories begin to intersect, it creates some bravura sequences. The visuals are absolutely beautiful (as you would expect from something that has The Wachowski's attached), with each narrative looking totally unique. The Neo Seoul sequences are the standout (except when it comes to the make up, which I will get to later), packing in most of the action, including a fantastic chase sequence. And the fact that this is all brought together on a budget of $102 million with no major studio attached (making this the most expensive independant production ever), makes it all the more impressive. To put it into perspective, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was made for $200 million, and this is just as accomplished as Peter Jackson's return to Middle-Earth.
A lot has been made of the decision to have the actors play multiple roles, both hero and villain, using make up effects to age them, switch ethnicities, and even swap genders (if anybody wanted to see what Halle Berry looks like as an eledrly Asian man, or Hugo Weaving as a harsh nursing home matron, this is the film for you). At times, the make up is the the only black mark I can find against this movie. It is glaringly obvious at times, and in the Neo Seoul sequences (told you I would get back to it) especially, it is beyond distracting. It can be absolutely flawless, in the case of Halle Berry as a Caucasian or Ben Whishaw as an elderly woman, but most of the time just falls down. But it used for more than just a gimmick. It makes sense with the interconnectedness of the stories, each actor playing their part, big or small, popping in and out when you least expect them. It makes the movie a bit easier to swallow, and really drives home what these linked narratives are trying to achieve. Watching Hugh Grant's characters evolve through different stages of evil, from uninformed bigotry to out and out eating people, is a blast, and you can see the actor is really enjoying himself. In fact all of the actors are on the top of the game. At any one point they can be extremely likable and truly despicable (Tom Hanks striking the perfect balance at one stage as an English yob), with only Hugo Weaving and Grant being the constant villains. And I can't close out this paragraph without mentioning the always fantastic Jim Broadbent. He stole the show for me, bringing the constant quality we have come to expect from him.
Your enjoyment of Cloud Atlas will depend on your willingness to let yourself be lost in the movie. This isn't a movie you can watch idly (as evidenced by the the teenagers sitting behind me who insisted on talking through the entire film, then complained about not understanding it as the credits rolled), but if you invest your time in this, you will find it is one of the most unique and rewarding cinematic experiences in a very long time. A must watch!!!!!!